Halliday's performance the stuff of legends

EVERYONE KNOWS THE NAMES. Thompson. Rypien. Rosenbach. Bledsoe. Leaf. Gesser. While it would be premature to lump redshirt freshman Connor Halliday in with Washington State's legendary signal-callers, none were as impressive in their first conference game. Halliday passed for a WSU freshman record 493 yards to lead the Cougars to a 37-27 win Saturday night versus Arizona State at Martin Stadium.

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Halliday, who completed 27 of 36 passes for four touchdowns, had the most passing yards in Pac-12 play this season. He also helped WSU (4-6 overall, 2-5 conference) retain its hopes of reaching a bowl.

Despite entering in the third series of the game, Halliday easily was able to break Drew Bledsoe's record of 385 passing yards set in 1990.

"I don't mean to sound arrogant, but when you believe in yourself like that you expect things like that are going to happen," Halliday said in a postgame television interview. "That's how you've got to think if you're a winner."

Halliday, a redshirt freshman from Ferris High School in Spokane, was exceptional, and helped end a seven-game losing streak against the Sun Devils (6-4, 4-3).

Perhaps no drive was more impressive than the final one.

After ASU's Alex Garoutte's 21-yard field goal went wide left to help the Cougars maintain a 30-27 lead, WSU took over with 5:45 minutes remaining and the ball on its own 20-yard line.

That was when Halliday showed the poise of a fifth-year senior.

On third-and-9, Halliday scrambled to find sophomore Marquess Wilson for a 25-yard gain. The Cougars then converted another third down on a 1-yard run by Carl Winston. Halliday later converted yet another third down with a 29-yard completion to Wilson, who had 223 yards and three touchdowns on eight receptions, down to ASU's 1. Winston scored on the next play to end the scoring and put the game on ice.

WSU secured the win when sophomore Eric Oertel forced a fumble by Jamal Miles on the kickoff, which was recovered by junior Kyle McCartney.

BUT THIS WIN WILL be remembered for Halliday's performance. As former coach and radio analyst Jim Walden said afterward, Halliday provided the playmaking ability that the Cougars have lacked since Jeff Tuel was injured for a second time this season Oct. 22 against Oregon State.

"There's guys who can make plays and guys who don't make plays," Walden said. "What I watched tonight was a young Jeff Tuel."

IT WAS JUST one of several storylines that cannot be understated. Seven years ago, WSU was blown out in Tempe, Ariz., when ASU honored the late Pat Tillman. Players and coaches said afterward that helped spark an inspired effort.

For this Saturday's game, the Cougars honored their own legendary linebacker -- Steve Gleason. The latter recently disclosed that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He spoke with the team Saturday morning.

"Steve Gleason was here and it was very emotional for our football team," Wulff said. "We came out focused."

And Wulff said playing at Martin Stadium -- it marked just WSU's second home game since Sept. 10 -- was another key factor.

"It was a real challenge to be away from home for so long," Wulff said. "To come home and get a win is so validating for our team."

The Cougars frequently had to overcome adversity to get to that point. After being ranked among the top Football Bowl Subdivision teams in kickoff-return coverage in 2010, WSU showed its regression in that area again Saturday on the opening kickoff, which Miles returned 95 yards for a touchdown.

Their offense also appeared as stagnant as it has in recent weeks during its first two possessions when starting quarterback Marshall Lobbestael completed just 1 of 3 passes for 9 yards.

Enter Halliday.

ON HIS FIRST play, Halliday found Wilson for a 85-yard touchdown pass. Wilson now has a 1,197 receiving yards, which broke Brandon Gibson's school record (1,180) set in 2007.

"He said I wasn't going to do it," said Wilson, referring to Gibson in a postgame radio interview. "It feels good to know that I broke his record."

But WSU botched its extra point when backup holder Alex Den Bleyker could not corral a high snap. That kept the Cougars playing from behind as a 39-yard field goal by sophomore Andrew Furney was sandwiched by 39- and 22-yard kicks by Garoutte in the second quarter.

The Cougars took their first lead when Wilson caught an 18-yard pass from Halliday to take a 16-13 edge with 1:15 remaining in the half.

BUT WSU's kickoff issues -- it tried multiple squib kicks in an effort to contain Miles -- gave the Sun Devils possession at their own 44 before the half. Buoyed by a questionable roughing the passer penalty, ASU needed just five plays for Cameron Marshall to score on a 2-yard run.

And despite outgaining the Sun Devils 300-194, the Cougars trailed 20-16 at halftime.

"That was bad and we've got to get that fixed," said Wulff, referring to the team's kickoff woes. "It's hurting us. We've got to get better or it's going to cost us games."

They did, although that margin remained the same entering the final period as ASU followed a 19-yard touchdown pass from Halliday to Wilson with its own 16-yard scoring throw from Brock Osweiler to Gerell Robinson in the third quarter.

THAT LED INTO the decisive moments of the game.

In recent years, WSU fans have seen disastrous results on fourth-down calls by the opponent. But not this time.

No, this time, it was Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson who made his own questionable fourth-down decision. Instead of attempting a field goal, he called a running play on fourth-and-1 at the Cougars' 9.

Against the second stingiest FBS fourth-down defense.

The result was predictable as senior defensive tackle Brandon Rankin stuffed Marshall for a 1-yard loss.

"That definitely got the whole team pumped up," junior defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi said.

WSU took advantage as it converted three third downs during a nine-play drive -- the final on third-and-14 when Halliday found Isiah Barton for a 17-yard touchdown pass to give the Cougars a 30-27 lead with 8:55 left.

The victory hardly was secure at that point, though. Osweiler, who completed 28 of 44 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown, drove down to WSU's 4 on third down. But his pass to wide open George Bell in the end zone fell incomplete and Garoutte missed a 21-yard field goal.

And even if it was not perfect -- it felt like destiny at that point. WSU drove the length of the field for the final score and put the game out of reach.

"It's a big, big game for us," Wulff said. "We beat a helluva football team. If we can clean those things up … we can continue to rise our level of performance."

The Cougars will need to do that in order to reach a bowl game. They host Utah next week before closing out the regular season Nov. 26 against Washington at CenturyLink Field.

"Our eyes are still on the bowl game," Laurenzi said.

WSU now is a closer to that goal, which Wulff summed up as well as anyone.

"That's a helluva a step for us."

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: ASU coach Dennis Erickson eschewed a short field goal to attempt a running play on fourth-and-goal at WSU's 9-yard line and a four-point lead. Rankin's submarine of running back Cameron Marshall was huge, and the Cougars drove the field and scored on the ensuing possession.

CATCH OF THE GAME: There were numerous highlight worthy catches to choose from. Perhaps none were more significant than Wilson's 25-yard grab on third-and-9 in the fourth quarter, when he got one foot down inbounds. Before the catch, WSU was situated at its own 21.

STAT OF THE GAME: Halliday, the Cougs' redshirt freshman quarterback, completed 27 of 36 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns -- both are the highest totals in the Pac-12 this season. He did that despite not entering the game until the third series.

MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: The Cougars' rushing statistics -- 87 yards on 37 carries -- might once again look unimpressive. But WSU's running game, led by junior Carl Winston's 52 yards on 14 carries, did enough to keep the Sun Devils solely focusing on the passing game.

LEADING TACKLERS: Sophomore safety Deone Bucannon had 13 stops, while classmate Casey Locker added 10.

NEXT GAME: WSU plays its final home game at 2 p.m. Saturday against Utah (6-4, 3-4).

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